Friday, July 28, 2017

Can Pro-Social Institutions Come Into Being In America's Dystopian Now?

evonomics |  The above says: how people in the present value rewards they expect to receive (say) 10 years into the future, is pretty similar across the world — although small differences can make a big difference in the long term through compounding. But the degree to which people want things right now, as opposed to tomorrow, varies quite dramatically.

By the way, Russia’s β is 0.21 !!! If that has nothing to do with low investment rates or insecure property rights for foreign companies, then I will eat my shorts !

The role of patience in cooperation is relevant to the “commitment problem” of the state in solving collective action problems. In theorising about the origins of the state, Mancur Olson gave a famous answer with his dichotomy of roving bandits and stationary bandits. In the world of political anarchy, roving bandits fight one another for opportunities to pillage the productive peasants. But sometimes one of them defeats all the others and establishes himself as a “stationary bandit”. He then acquires a strong intrinsic interest in restraining his plunder — his ‘taxation’ — in order to let the economy grow. It’s the “fatten the goose that lays the golden eggs” principle.

But that depends! If the stationary bandit is impulsive and impatient, he can remain a predator for a very long time.

Political scientist Carles Boix in a recent book pointed out that the reciprocity of stateless foraging societies cannot be sustained when the distribution of resources is too unequal. But even his model depends on ‘patience’, with the implication that uncoordinated cooperation is still possible with more inequality as long as people are patient enough. This is actually true of models using prisoner’s dilemma and stag hunt in general. Even Acemoglu‘s ruling elite with vested interests in maintaining “extractive institutions” would have incentives for “inclusive institutions” if they were only patient enough.

So to answer the question at the head of this post, “where do pro-social institutions come from?” — if ‘bad’ institutions represent coordination failures, then intelligence and patience must be a big part of the answer. This need not have the same relevance for social evolution from 100,000 BCE to 1500 CE. But for the emergence of ‘modern’, advanced societies, intelligence and patience matter.

It’s not that people’s norms and values do not or cannot change. They do. But that does not seem enough. Solving complex coordination failures and collective action problems requires a lot more than just ‘good’ culture.

I am not saying intelligence and patience explain ‘everything‘, just that they seem to be an important part of how ‘good’ institutions happen. Nor am I saying that intelligence and patience are immutable quantities. Pinker argued in The Better Angels of Our Nature that the long-run secular decline in violence may be due to the Flynn Effect:
…the pacifying effects of reason, and the Flynn Effect. We have several grounds for supposing that enhanced powers of reason—specifically, the ability to set aside immediate experience, detach oneself from a parochial vantage point, and frame one’s ideas in abstract, universal terms—would lead to better moral commitments, including an avoidance of violence.
What is the above describing, other than the increasing ability of people to empathise with a wider group of people than friends and family? Intelligence and patience allow you to understand, and weigh, the intuitive risks and the counterintuitive benefits from collaborating with perfect strangers. With less intelligence and less patience you stick to what you know — intuit the benefits from relationships cultivated over a long time through blood ties or other intimate affiliations.
Your “moral circle” is wider with intelligence and patience than without.


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